The Evanstonian

Kamasi Hill’s film Born in the Struggle set to release this fall

Kamasi Hill

Katy Donati, Executive Editor

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After three years of locating sources from around the country, conducting extensive interviews, shooting film and editing his work with self-reflection, ETHS history and English teacher Kamasi Hill will release his film Born in the Struggle in the fall of 2018.

“[My inspiration for the film] came from growing up in a household where my parents were activists and feeling weird as a kid,” said Hill. “I wanted to see how our lives were impacted by not only the larger movement that was happening around the nation but also the smaller movement that was happening in our households.”

Hill’s parents were revolutionists who were involved in the Black Power movement. The film features interviews with a variety of individuals such as Ta-Nehisi Coates and Imani Perry who, like Hill, grew up children of revolutionist parents. Their narratives detailed reflections on their relationships with their parents and their understanding of the historic movement as it unfolded in their homes and public America.

“I would often forget the camera was even on,” said Hill. “We were just sitting there talking, sharing similar stories and experiences. Something that they would say would trigger my memory or something I would say would trigger theirs. I often didn’t realize we were actually an hour into the conversation.”

Born in the Struggle also sheds light on the significance of hip-hop in American history and its correlation with the Black Power movement.

“I think what hip-hop did was it validated what our parents taught us,” said Hill. “Your parents say stuff and it’s just like ‘aww that’s what mom and dad said,’ but when your pop culture heroes reinforce it it’s like ‘wow okay now it’s cool’.”

Hill refers to this sensation as the ‘cool factor.’ He attributes his ability to fit in as a teenager to hip-hop’s power to spread revolutionary messages through the popular artform.

“When hip-hop came out we were the cool kids because now everybody is looking like us and dressing like us, they want an African name, they want to be hip, they want to be down with the struggle, because in mainstream hip-hop that was validated,” explained Hill.

Artists such as Tupac Shakur, also a child of a Black Power movement activist, led the way in endorsing the movement and demanding change. The film also elaborates on the fact that many of those interviewed had parents who were featured in popular hip-hop songs and albums.

Hill described this experience as “not only is my mom or dad this activist but now I’m listening to the music and they are quoting my parents. The beat drops and it’s like there’s your dad’s voice in the song.”

Making documentary films had always been a dream of Hill’s. At Howard University, Hill majored in film production and minored in history. Although he has always been a filmmaker, Born in the Struggle is Hill’s first full length documentary.

Hill spent about six months finding sources and then another six months raising the funds, a year of shooting and then a year of editing.

“The hardest part, besides raising the funds, was scheduling of all the interviews and the traveling,” said Hill. “There was one interview where I was supposed to interview this guy in New York, he said ‘I can’t make it I will be in DC, but I have like a four hour window’ so I had to rent a car and drive there.”

Hill’s efforts were worthwhile as his documentary has already impacted viewers at ETHS.

“I thought Dr. Hill interviewing the kids of Civil Rights activists gave a really unique insight into what it was like firsthand for people to be a part of that movement, said junior Austin Suvari and previous student of Hil. “I feel like the movie made it easy for others to relate to the experiences of the activists through their children’s experiences.”

Ensuring the film was relatable and authentic was important to Hill. When asked about the most important point he made in the film, Hill said, ““The very first line that I said in the film ‘it’s hard to be a revolutionary and a dope parent’.”

Hill explained that it’s hard for a typical parent to come home everyday from worked tired and still be the best parent for your children, but it’s even more difficult for those with social-political commitments.

“How do you decide ‘we are going to this rally, this march, this seminar and I am going to bring my three year old with me’,” described Hill. “Do you make that decision to bring them along with you and put them possibly in harm’s way? Or do you leave them with a babysitter and your away from? It’s a tough, tough balancing act.”

Hill underscored that the parents whom he tries to honor in the documentary led revolutionary lives.

“And I do mean a revolutionary, I don’t mean like a politician, that’s a job,” said Hill. “You’re going your voting and you’re coming home. A revolutionary is 24/7. You’re a radical person fighting for justice which is a commitment.”

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Kamasi Hill’s film Born in the Struggle set to release this fall